Archive for December, 2012
During the recent Do It Yourself World survival weekend we experimented with various fire starting methods and tinder materials. Milkweed fluff was one of the materials we learned to use during the weekend. In a survival situation you will need fire starting skills and the knowledge of materials in your area that can be used to start a fire.
The fluffy silky fibers from a milkweed seed pod make awesome fire starting tinder. The milkweed seed pod forms in late summer and is often found deep into winter. The seed pod contains silky strands attached to a seed. Each seed has a bunch of strands, which catch the wind and act like an umbrella, floating it across the country to find a new resting place for the seed. The fluff from milkweed seed pods catches fire fast and easy, making it one of the best natural fire starting tinder materials you can find.
Milkweed seed pods form on the top of the milkweed plant in fall. These later burst open to reveal the seeds and fluff inside. When the seed pods open and the wind blows, the seeds float on the air. Often, in protected areas, where the wind does not hit the seed pods as strong, the fluff can still be found in large quantities.
As you are walking along through the forest and find a milkweed seed head, simply pull out the fluff from the seed head and add it to your tinder box for later. Milkweed fluff also makes good insulation for winter bedding or clothing in a survival situation.
To start a fire using milkweed fluff, build it as you normally would using milkweed fluff tinder at the bottom. The milkweed fluff catches fire very fast and easy, so the fire should ignite right away. Using good, dry leaves or grass on top of the milkweed fluff ensures that the fire will start right up.
In the photo below you can see the milkweed fluff has caught fire very well. This is less than a second after ignition.
Follow The Survival Weekend for more survival skills.
Garlic mustard is an invasive weed. At least that is what gardeners and lawn care workers call it. It was once brought over from Europe to be used as a very healthy and nutritious herb. It grew with vigor and thrived here. Some time in the past, people forgot about its usefulness as a food herb and started treating it as a weed. But garlic mustard is very good for you.
Garlic mustard is an awesome addition to your list of survival foods because it is packed with vitamins and minerals and because it can be found in the winter. It loves to grow in forests and shady areas and disturbed roadside beds. Garlic mustard has a sort of natural, edible antifreeze that allows it to grow and thrive in winter. You can dig under the snow and find garlic mustard to eat when you are hungry.
Garlic mustard tastes just like its name implies. It tastes like a combination of garlic and mustard. The whole plant is edible from the root to the flowers in summer. The leaves can be eaten fresh or boiled like spinach. The roots make a sort of horseradish if you grind them up. The flavor is very pleasant to some, but they taste better to others when boiled. The young fresh leaves and flowers can be added to salads or served as a garnish with meals.
Garlic mustard can be used as a spice or seasoning for your meals as well.
Garlic mustard is also a powerhouse of vitamins. It contains vitamins A, C, B and many minerals. It also contains important Omega 3 fatty acids. Rumor has it that garlic mustard can help against cancer. A poultice can be used to treat insect bites and stings. It can also help against respiratory infections and asthma.
Garlic mustard is a biennial herb that produces short, now laying plants in the first year and long, tall (3 foot) plants the second year. In the second year it produces flowers in mid summer, which are very tasty. The seeds can be used like mustard seeds. The first year leaves are the best tasting fresh, but grazing off the smaller leaves on second year plants is also good.
Garlic mustard leaves are about 1 to 2 inches round, roughly heart or triangular (sometimes round) shaped and course toothed on the edges. In the second year they grow long stalks with alternating leaves on the stem. The second year they can grow up to 3 feet high. The flowers appear in mid summer and are small and white. The leaves have a distinct garlic smell when crushed.
The garlic mustard is a relative of the mustard family.
There are no known poisonous look alikes.
It is the middle of winter now and most of the plants have died off. There is not much green left anywhere. It is getting harder to find edible foods in nature as the weather gets colder. But somehow the animals in the forest manage to survive. Watch a deer eat after a snowfall and see what he does.
Most wild animals do not stock up on food to survive the winter like people do. The wild animals somehow survive though. They must be eating something.
The wild edible series will continue though the winter to show you what wild edible foods can be found in winter. You may be surprised what you can find.
Winter wild edible – garlic mustard
Back to the deer. They eat greens, berries and tree bark and leaves. In winter you will see them digging through the snow looking for something to eat. They can also be found grazing on young tree shoots and bark in the winter. If you watch the animals, you can learn from them. People cannot always eat everything that animals do, but there are many wild edible foods that we have in common.
This winter in Upstate New York has been mild so in some areas you can find grass growing. Here where I live there is a hill that is protected from the weather and winds. The sun shines on it all day. This provides for some grass and wild edibles to grow through the milder parts of the winter.
If you can find some grass that has not yet died off, you have some vitamins and minerals right there. You can chew the grass blades and swallow the juices. Spit out the pulp which is not digestible. The juices are very healthy and provide lots of nutrients.
Wild garlic can be found pretty much throughout the winter. Garlic seems to like colder weather and thrives as long as it is not covered in snow too long. Then, as soon as the snow melts, the garlic grows again. It makes a great winter survival food. And its the perfect time because of the winter illnesses and the fact that garlic is a natural antibiotic. When I start to feel a cold coming on, I eat this stuff raw fresh from the back yard. The bulbs from wild garlic bite just like commercial garlic when you eat it. Sort of a peppery hot feeling.
Garlic Mustard is a nice winter survival food. Garlic mustard has a type of edible antifreeze in its system that allows it to grow all year. You can find it all over the forest edge during winter. You may need to dig a bit through snow to find some so it is a good idea to know in advance where it grows beforehand.
Sometimes you can find smaller versions of summer wild edibles in winter holding on and trying to survive. Dandelion greens will grow as long as the days are above freezing. The plants stay small, which means they are fresh as well.
If you move leaves around often you can find something that survives the harsh weather such as the wild strawberry in the photo below. Wild strawberry leaves are edible and a good winter find. The leaves act like an insulator and protect the strawberry plant from freezing.
Foraging for winter survival foods
Another wild edible that can sometimes be found in winter is wild plantain. If the winter is mild enough, this plant hangs on though the season. Again, the same as with grass, it all depends on the weather and how much snow and deep freezing you get.
Some clover also remains in lawns and fields if you are lucky. This is a good, healthy edible food.
There are other wild edibles you can find in the winter, but these will be covered later.
You can check out our other Wild Foraging Articles in the mean time.
Winter and street markets seem to go hand in hand with the nice sweet flavor of roasted chestnuts. Often you find a street vendor selling roasted chestnuts on a cold winter day. Chestnuts are easy to roast yourself at home so you can enjoy them any time.
All you need are some chestnuts and a pan to put in the oven. First find some good, fresh chestnuts. Reject any that have mold on the outside, holes in them or if they seem too hard (dried out), or too soft (rotten).
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Score the chestnuts almost all the way across with a knife to prepare them for roasting. Some people like to score them twice in a cross pattern to make them easier to open. Then place your chestnuts in a pan and put them in the oven at for about 30 – 35 minutes.
When they are finished baking, pull them out of the oven and let them cool a few minutes. You can now easily peel off the shell and inner skin while they are still hot.
Eat them while they are fresh and warm.
Any leftover chestnuts (if any) are still a nice snack the next day.
Some friends and I just spent a weekend in the survival truck camper. It is early December in Upstate NY so it is very cold at night, down into the 20s sometimes. During the day it varies between 30 to 40 degrees. But sleeping in a survival shelter at night can be quite an experience.
The survival shelter is a slide in truck camper that rides on top of a 4×4 GMC truck. The truck handles the camper quite well in most situations. The camper has all the basic needs for survival and then some. It came with no fridge or heater, so there is more storage space for survival gear.
We used oil lamps for light and some heat during the day and early evenings. It was mostly cloudy out so we used the lanterns almost the whole weekend. It helps keep it about 50 degrees inside with two oil lamps going. In the photo above you can see two of my friends sitting at the table and the two oil lamps we used for light and heat.
During the night we left an oil lamp on low as a night light and we tried out my second hand propane heater. This is a Mr Heater Buddy I got for $10 at a garage sale. You can screw in a one pound can or attach a hose to a 20 lb cylinder. I wanted to see how long it lasted on a can, so we screwed in a one pounder and went to bed. The heater was left on low at about 11pm.
Some time in the middle of the night it cold cold. The heat had gone out and it was about 29 outside. The heater only lasts a few hours on a one pounder on low. That is not good.
When we got up in the morning, it was in the high 40s inside. Not too bad considering that only our body heat and the little oil lamp kept it warm.
The moral of the story is that a smaller survival shelter is easier to keep warm in the winter. The smaller space and the amount of gear we have stashed in the camper help maintain the warmth even through the night.
In a real survival situation there would be no propane for heat. We would use homemade oil for our lamps and DIY alcohol for our heating stoves. See how to make the DIY Alcohol Heater we used last time in a blizzard.